Friday, April 23, 2010

Liberia: Prosecutor answers questions about the 11 counts facing Charles Taylor

Source: United Nations Radio - The civil war in Sierra Leone ended in 2002 and the country is struggling to build peace and promote development. During that conflict rebels made their mark by hacking off the limbs of their victims. Thousands more people died in the war. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is standing trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague in The Netherlands for the crimes committed during that conflict. The Prosecutor of the United Nations-supported Court, Brenda Hollis, was in New York recently. Derrick Mbatha asked her about the 11 counts facing Charles Taylor.

HOLLIS: They include such things as murder, rapes, sexual slavery, enslavement, either the recruitment, or conscription or use of child soldiers, looting, and our theory of the case against Mr. Taylor is not that he was ever actually in Sierra Leone, but that through a variety of other means he was individually responsible for what happened in Sierra Leone.

MBATHA: Talking about that, of course, these were crimes that were committed by the Revolutionary United Front. Now, did it present a challenge for you to link him, to make that connection of Charles with these crimes in Sierra Leone?

HOLLIS: We have actually alleged that he was involved in crimes that were committed both by the Revolutionary United Front and by the ex-soldiers who formed part of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. In terms of dealing with a head of state or any high level leader it is, of course, more challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person at such a high level is responsible for the crimes than others at a very low level.

MBATHA: And what about witnesses against Charles to buttress your case? Did that present a challenge to you?

HOLLIS: In any case you have challenges with witnesses. And, of course, the defense has the same issues to find witnesses to bring forward in the defense of Mr. Taylor or to attempt to counter our evidence. So, security for witnesses, their willingness to come forward, physical requirements for some witnesses to come forward who may have suffered physical injuries during the war and needs certain kinds of assistance when they come forward, these are all challenges in any case. And they are really no different when you are dealing with high level offenders.

MBATHA: And what about the logistics, given the fact that the trial is taking place in The Hague and, I assume, witnesses will be in Sierra Leone?

HOLLIS: Well, witnesses come from various locations and they are brought to The Hague through combined efforts of the Registry, Victims and Witnesses Section and, of course, the assistance and facilitation of the government of The Netherlands to allow visas to expedite the process. And also we received assistance from the government of The Netherlands in finding a location for witnesses to lodge farther in The Hague and other assistance with witnesses to ensure that their needs are taken care of. So, it's quite a logistical challenge. It is one that the Registry has undertaken and has done an excellent job in fulfilling, meeting that challenge.

MBATHA: And what about the crimes of recruiting child soldiers? Have you been able to get witnesses to prove part of the crimes that Charles has allegedly committed?

HOLLIS: We have brought evidence to support that count of the indictment. And, of course, in other cases before the Special Court, we have had convictions for conscription or recruitment or use of child soldiers. That is one of the areas where the Special Court has made a unique contribution to international criminal justice and that is it has developed jurisprudence relating to this very important area of the law.

MBATHA: And talking about looting which is part of these crimes, does this include looting what is called blood diamonds?

HOLLIS: In our pre-trial briefing our opening statement we talk about our theory relating to the role of blood diamonds in this prosecution, and eventually it will be for the judges to determine to what extent we have been able to prove that involvement.

PRES: That was Brenda Hollis, Prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, speaking to UN Radio's Derrick Mbatha.

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